December Garden Calendar

Winter Garden Calendar

Winter time in zone 5 might not be the most desirable time to be outside.  But, not all is lost.  There are still activities we can do outside and inside that can help prepare us for the spring.   In an article from Purdue University’s Department of Horticulture (Publication HO-90-W), a monthly calendar summarizes activities that will help prepare your yard and gardens for next year.  Keep in mind that this information is based around zone 5 weather and that timing of these horticultural events can vary from year to year because of the fluctuating weather patterns.


Indoor Plants and Activities

Houseplants- Now is great time to check your houseplants for humidity issues.  To learn more about increasing humidity levels or other houseplant issues, see this blog article on Houseplant Problems.

Poinsettias and Christmas cactus – To help extend their beauty, place them in a cool, well lit area, avoiding cold drafts.

Proper lighting- Decreased sunlight is inevitable in the wintertime.  If needed, relocate your plants to sunny windows.  Be careful to avoid plants touching the cold window panes.

Bulbs- If you are forcing bulbs for the holidays, bring them into warmer temperatures (60°F) for 2-4 weeks after they have been sufficiently cooled.  Bulbs need a 10-12 week chilling period of 40°F, which simulates their real life winter environment.   Be sure to provide bright light and moist soil in this warmer environment.

Real Christmas trees- It goes without saying to always make sure to keep your Christmas tree properly watered.

Evergreens- can be properly pruned and brought inside for holiday greenery.  Pines and spruce are not recommended.

Lawns, Woody Ornamentals, Landscape Plants and Tree Fruits

Bark protection- Young and thin-barked trees, such as fruit and maple trees, might benefit from a tree wrap- especially south- and southwest-facing sides.

Shrub limb protection- Shrubs such as junipers and arborvitae may need protection from excessive snow load.  One such way to remedy this is to tie their stems together with twine.  Remove excess snow with a broom.

Salt, wind and sun damage- Protect your broadleaved evergreens with canvas or burlap where damage from road salt or excessive wind and sun damage can be become severe.

Rose graft insulation- Protect your rose graft union by piling soil and additional organic mulch or straw up to 12 inches high.

Flowers, Vegetables and Small Fruits

Perennials- Protect new or tender perennials with mulch or straw after the plants have become dormant.

Garden chemicals- Be sure to store leftover garden chemicals in a dry, unfrozen environment.  Care should always be taken to keep out of the reach of children and pets.

Dead Plant Material- Clean up this debris in your flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Strawberries- Temperatures at 20°F are ideal for mulching your strawberries.

Seed Catalogs- Now is a great time to order seed catalogs and get ready for next year.  This is the fun part!


Bromeliads work great in a terrarium environment

A terrarium is essentially a garden in an enclosed glass container that provides adequate humidity preferred by tender tropical plants.  It can also be used to start new plants or freshly cut un-rooted plants.  While many of you have probably seen a prepackaged terrarium kit that provides all the materials needed to make your own “garden under glass”, you can assembly your own with some items you may already have around your home.


Almost any clear glass container with a lid can be used for your terrarium.  Cloudy or colored glass is not recommended because it filters out too much light, while non-lidded containers wouldn’t provide the humidity and moisture needed.  If the container doesn’t have a lid, clear plastic wrap and a rubber band or cellophane tape will work.

Keep the scale of the relative to the container size.  For example, small evergreens or deciduous tree seedlings can be grown in larger containers such as aquariums, while smaller plants could be grown in a fish bowl, goblet, etc.

Soil and Drainage

The ideal soil mixture is one part of each: sand, peat moss and loam.  Ordinary garden soils are considered too heavy for plants to grow well in this environment.  One teaspoon of 5-10-5 fertilizer should be added to a six-inch potful of soil mixture.

Drainage should be employed using a layer of moss.  For larger containers, a layer of sand or gravel is recommended before adding the moss.

Planting and Care

  1. Cover the bottom of the container with 1-3 inches of gravel or sand.
  2. Place a fine layer of sheet moss over the drainage material.
  3. Place the soil mixture over the moss.  Just enough soil is needed to hold the plants in place.  Roots do not need to be completely covered as the humidity will keep the roots from drying out.
  4. After planting, wet the soil with a fine mist.  Water only until it seeps through the moss layer.  Do not allow water to stand in the bottom of the terrarium.  If this happens, remove the cover for several hours a day until the excess water evaporates.
  5. Water only when the soil surface becomes dry and add only enough water to moisten the soil.  The condensation from the terrarium will drip back down onto the plant helping to keep it moist.
  6. Place your completed terrarium in a well lit location, out of direct sunlight.
  7. Pinch back plants that become overcrowded or too tall.
  8. An annual re-design will be needed.  At this time, replace mosses and reuse plants if possible or employ new for a fresh look.


Below is a list of recommended plants that will adapt well in a terrarium environment.  Keep in mind that because of the moist environment, un-rooted cuttings can be used, as they will eventually form roots.

Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension

Houseplant Problems

Root Rot: Several contributing factors include:

  • Overwatering
  • Heavy soils (too much clay)
  • Containers that lack adequate drainage holes.


  • Always water thoroughly until water comes out the drainage holes.  Do not water again until just below the surface of the soil is barely moist.
  • Use a quality potting soil which will adequately allow for drainage
  • Assure that containers have drainage holes

If root rot is suspected, remove plant from the container and visually inspect the roots.  Healthy roots will appear fibrous with white root tips.  The presence of rot will have roots that have blackened tips and slimy brown-black decay.  If root rot is not extensive, try to improve drainage by employing the solutions above.

Nutrient Deficiency: There are several nutrient deficiencies possible:

  • Nitrogen deficiency is displayed by leaves that turn pale green or yellow
  • Potassium deficiency is displayed in brown and dying of leaf margins.
  • Phosphorus deficiency is a little harder to define.  Some symptoms could include the leaves turning a dark, dull green or bluish green.

Solution:  If nutrient deficiency is suspected, fertilize appropriately.  Always read and follow the instructions on the fertilizer bottle.

Hot &/or Dry Air: This problem is most severe in the winter months where a lack of humidity and high heat are issues.

Solution:  If heat and humidity are a concern, keep plants away from heat ducts, vents or radiators.  Increase humidity by placing container is a shallow bed of water covered pebbles, being careful that the plant does not sit in the water.  Placing the plant in a room where a humidifier is available.

Insufficient Light:  Symptoms include pale, yellow, small leaves and poor growth.

Solution:  If insufficient light is suspected, determine the proper light intensity for the plant and place it in an appropriate location.

Accumulated Salts: A noticeable white or yellow crust on the soil surface and plant stems is a good indication of accumulated salts.  Plants that have been established in a pot for a length of time may accumulate this from fertilizers or hard water.

Solution: At least once a month, apply enough water to the top of the soil to thoroughly leach all excess salts to the bottom of the pot.  A loose porous soil helps with this leaching process as well.

Pot Bound Roots: Pots that have been growing in the same pot for extended periods of time can become pot bound.  An easy indicator is to lift the plant out of the container and note roots circling around the potting soil.

Solution:  Repot the new plant using a pot that is 1-2 inches wider and deeper than the previous pot.

Sudden Change in Environment:  Sudden leaf drop is a good indicator that a plant’s environment has changed.  Environmental changes that can cause this include: rapid temperature change, drafts or dry, hot or cold air, change of location from sunny to dark.

Solution: Understand your plant’s environmental needs and follow them.

Fungal Leaf Spot: Minute black dots on the leaves are an indicator of this fungus.

Solution:  Keep the foliage dry, and pick off and destroy infected leaves if infection is minimal.  Keep this plant isolated from all other plants.

Water Spots: Some plants, such as African violets, are susceptible to water spots when leaves get splashed with cold water.  Aerosol sprays, sun shining on wet leaves, hot grease spattering can also irritate some plant leaves.

Solution:  Take caution not to get water on the leaves.  Also avoid other spattering sources.

Mites and Insect Problems:  Bronzed colored leaves and webbing can be noticed on plants infected with spider mites.  Also, placing a white sheet of paper under a leaf and tapping the plant can identify spider mite damage.  The mites will fall onto the sheet of paper and will resemble very tiny dots.

Solution: Preventative measures are important by using the identifiers listed above.  Spider mites are attracted to plants under stress.  Keeping plants healthy will help to solve this.  Also a steady stream of water applied to your plant every 2 weeks can help rid the problem.  Insecticidal soaps are also effective at eliminating spider mites.

In general, be careful to consider the plant’s best location, surroundings, water requirements and history.  These can also give you good indicators as to what your plant is experiencing.

Source: Purdue University Cooperative Extension

Forcing Branches for Winter Color


As dreary as it can look outside for most of us in the wintertime, bringing a little early outside life indoors can surely brighten our spirits.  As most early spring flowering trees and shrubs form their buds in the fall before going dormant, it’s possible to force them into early blooming for our enjoyment in a floral arrangement or an accent piece indoors.  This article is compliments of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Department of Horticulture.  I was fortunate enough to receive many similar articles through my Master Gardener’s training that I intend to share.

Gathering Branches

Select young healthy branches with numerous buds throughout the tree or shrub.  Keep in mind that the voids you create might show in the spring so space your cuttings accordingly.  Follow good pruning practices, which include cutting approximately ¼ inch above a side bud or branch so that no stub is left behind.  Cut your branches 6-18 inches long.

Getting Branches to Bloom

After you have gathered your branches:

  1. Make a second cut diagonally above the previous cut.  If the temperatures are below freezing when you cut the branches, immerse the branches completely in cool water for several hours or even overnight.  This deters the blooms from bursting prematurely.  This isn’t necessary for temperatures above freezing.
  2. Put the branches in a container to hold them upright.  Add warm water (110°F) no higher than 3 inches on the stems.  Flower preservative (See below preservative recipes) can also be added to prolong the branch life.  Allow to stand for 20-30 minutes and then fill the container with additional preservative solution.
  3. Keep the container in a cool, partially shaded solution, making sure to maintain the water level.
  4. Once the buds show color, move to a well lit room avoiding direct sunlight.  They can now be removed from the original container and arranged in the desired fashion.  Ample water is needed to prolong your blooms.
  5. Rooting might occur on branches during this forcing period.  If this is desired, remove the branch when the roots are ¼ to 3/8 inches long and pot individually.  The plant can be transferred outdoors after the warm weather arrives.  Protection may be needed for several years on this newly formed plant though.

Preservative Recipe #1:

  • 2 cups lemon-lime carbonated beverage
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach

Preservative Recipe#2:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • Mix with 1 quart water

Preservative recipe #3:

  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • Mix with 1 quart water

Suggested Plants for Forcing

Suggested Plants for Forcing

Wanvisa named Collector’s Aquatic Plant of the Year 2011

Wanvisa Dr. N. Nopchai Chansilpa photo

The International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society (IWGS) recently announced the winner of their Collector’s Aquatic Plants of the Year (CAPY) for 2011: Nymphaea ‘Wanvisa’

This hardy water lily boasts salmon pink to peach colored flowers with flecks of cream to pale yellow accents.   While the leaves display a marbled appearance.  “This beautiful plant was a standout in the display ponds at Duke Gardens this summer and is sure to become a perennial favorite in water gardens around the world,” said Tamara Kilbane, the horticulturist at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina who curates the New Waterlily Competition for the IWGS each year.

Wanvisa’s story of recognition was nearly bypassed entirely because it was viewed as an abnormality in a cultivated water lily field in Thailand.  Growing among Nymphaea ‘Joey Tomocik’, a vibrant yellow hardy water lily, the water lily nursery owner was concerned it would contaminate her prized N. ‘Joey Tomocik’.  But Dr. N. Nopchai Chansilpa immediately recognized there was something extraordinary about this plant.  Dr. Chansilpa is a water lily hybridizer, aquatic plant enthusiast, and plant pathologist who lives and works in Thailand. His N. ‘Mangkala Ubol’ won 1st Place in the hardy water lily category in the 2004 New Waterlily Competition.

To purchase or find out more information about this water lily, visit the IWGS website:

Pond Pump Selection

Proper Pump Selection

Your pond pump is one of the most important elements of your pond. Not only does it provide oxygen to your fish, it circulates water throughout the system, aiding in filtration. The aesthetically pleasing sound of running water is a great aspect as well.
With all the responsibilities of a pump, proper pump sizing is important. It can be the difference between water flowing over your waterfall or barely trickling over it. Likewise, an oversized pump in a fountain can cause water to spew out of the fountain and onto the floor. Incorrectly sized pumps also can lead to premature pump failure and efficiency issues. So take some time to determine which pump best suites your needs.
There are several important factors to consider during your pump selection process:
Pond Volume
In other words, how many gallons of water are in your pond? Gallons are figured by multiplying the average length (ft) x average width (Ft) x average depth (ft) x 7.5. There are differing opinions pertaining to recirculation values, but a good rule of thumb is to recirculate the entire volume of water once an hour. So, if you have a 5,000 gallon pond, then a 5,000 GPH pump is recommended.
Total Head
Total head refers the combined friction losses sustained throughout the piping due to:
• Friction Head- is the resistance to flow within all the components, such as piping, elbows, valves, etc. For example, Aquascape recommends for most average sized ponds, to add 1’ of head for every 10’ length of hose from your pump to your falls. So, if you have 20’ of hose, assume 2’ of friction head. Always verify with the specific pump manufacturer for their specifics. For larger ponds and waterfall streams, a more detailed look into total head should be examined.
• Static Head- Vertical distance from the lowest water surface to highest discharge point.

To use our Head Pressure calculator, click here.
After you have calculated your total head (Friction Head + Static Head), it can be compared against pump performance charts, like the one shown below. These charts give pertinent information, including: maximum head height, flow rates at difference heights and other specifics to help aide in your decision. For example, Aquascape’s Tsurumi PL Series Pump Performance information is shown below for each model.

Waterfall Weir Size
Waterfall weir size is yet another important factor in the pump selection process. It refers to how wide the spillway for the waterfall is. Aquascape recommends 1,000-3,000 GPH per foot of spillway width for residential ponds. For example, if your waterfall weir or spillway width is 2 feet wide, then a pump between 2,000-6,000 GPH should be ideal.

Create Your Own Backyard Bird Sanctuary

Image Complements of ren_041 at stock.schng

Transforming your backyard into a bird haven is a dream of many.  That dream can easily be made a reality by learning the requirements of your feathered friends.  Birds, like humans, have basic needs, which include:  a good source for food, water and shelter.  These needs become scarcer when the climate becomes cold in northern regions.  It increases the importance for maintaining the basic needs all year round.  Here are a few suggestions from the National Audubon Society:

The Basics


Birds will flock to the food that suits them.  To attract a variety of birds, consider these treats help to overwintering:

  • Thistle or Nyjer seed- Attracts chickadees and finches, including goldfinches.  Do not confuse this with the prickly thistle, a pink-flowered weed used by goldfinches to line their nests.
  • Suet Cakes and Bird Pudding Cakes – Attracts insect eating birds, like: nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and others.  Place the suet in specific feeders at least five feet from the ground to keep away from dogs.  This is a cool weather treat as the hot weather can turn it rancid.
  • Nut and Fruit Blend- Attracts cardinals, titmice, woodpeckers, and many more.  Place this treat in a tube-shaped, metal mesh feeder.
  • Sunflower Seed- has several well known varieties.  Striped sunflower seeds are enjoyed by many large-beaked birds.  Black-oil seed is enjoyed by small feeder birds.
  • Millet- is preferred by many small-beaked ground-feeding birds including: quail, doves, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds.
  • Medium Cracked Corn – is popular with the same ground feeding birds that enjoy millet.  Feed on feeding tables off of the ground, as it tends to absorb moisture and will rot rather quickly.
  • Milo, Wheat, Oats – attracts pheasants, quail and doves.  These products are frequently mixed into low-priced birdseed blends.


Clean, fresh water is an important aspect in controlling the spread of disease among birds.  It is recommended to replace water daily in birdbaths.


  • Avoid using pesticides on lawns and gardens
  • Reduce the amount of lawn surrounding your home by planting native trees and shrubs, which will provide food for the insects birds eat.
  • Pile up brush and fallen branches to create shelter for birds.
  • Rake leaves so they are under the shrubs to provide habitat for insects, a necessary food for chicks and adults.
  • Put up birdhouses for more permanent shelter.
  • Locate feeders within 3 feet of windows, or better yet, more than 30 feet away, so birds taking off from feeders are less likely to mistake reflections for open sky.
  • Keep cats indoors, where they and the birds are safer.